The word witness has great significance throughout Scripture. Its basic meaning is “one who gives testimony.” Witnesses faithfully repeat what they have seen or experienced. Under the Old Testament law, a witness was someone who was called upon to give evidence (Ex. 23:1; Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6). In ancient Israel, witnesses also validated legal transactions (Ruth 4:9–11).
Sometimes inanimate objects are described as witnesses. When Laban entered into a covenant with Jacob, he told his relatives to gather stones and pile them in a heap. The two names given to the pile of stones, one in Aramaic and the other in Hebrew, both meant “heap of witness.” Their presence was an enduring and visible reminder of the commitments made by both parties. Jacob also gave them the name Mizpah, which meant “watchtower.” This was a reminder of God’s role in their transaction as both an observer and the one who would enforce the terms of their agreement (Gen. 31:49).
In the New Testament the idea of witness is especially identified with the testimony of Christ’s disciples. They bore witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This is the primary mission of the church (Acts 1:8). Like them, we are to be witnesses of the truth. For the Christian this is both an identity and a task. When we bear witness to the truth we declare a message. We tell others the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. We also speak from experience. We tell others how much the Lord has done for us, and how He has had mercy on us (Mark 5:19).
But more than anything else, when we bear witness to the truth we introduce others to the person of Christ. This is because of the “the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2). The believer’s calling to be a witness is rooted in Jesus Christ’s role. Jesus is the ultimate witness. He is “the faithful witness” and “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev. 1:5). Jesus is the one who came from heaven to testify to what He has seen and heard (John 3:31, 32). Jesus is the ultimate witness because He is the perfect picture of God.
FOR FURTHER READING
To learn more about others who testified about Christ, read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs edited by W. Grinton Berry (Baker).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.